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Make It So: Creating Operational Diversity in the Digital Maker Community

This is for everyone #london2012 #oneweb #openingceremony @webfoundation @w3c
- @timberners_lee live tweet

I’m really looking forward to delivering the opening keynote at the IA Summit in Atlanta, GA (May 5–8). The Summit’s theme this year, “A Broader Panorama,” is appropriate in more ways than one, as it speaks not only to the expanding field of IA, but our evolving perspectives in approaching this discipline.

In many ways, I am an outlier in the traditional Information Architecture community — and I think that position provides me with a different (and helpful) point of view. For more than 20 years, I have been working with digital teams (that often include IAs), trying to help them improve their work by improving the way that they work, communicate, and interact with each other.

As my own perspective has broadened, I have become by necessity a “big picture” person, focusing on larger digital ecosystems. While I know enough about most digital domains to have meaningful conversations with practitioners, I am way over my head in today’s development trenches. Yes, I can read code and markup, which buys me a lot of street cred in the digital maker community, but I stopped making digital things about 15 years ago. That’s when I shifted from making to makers. Today, I specialize in analyzing and understanding the challenges that digital teams face in creating those online experiences that shape so much of our world — and then offering actionable solutions to improve that team’s dynamics. Simply put, I want digital makers to have a better user experience while doing their jobs. I believe that if makers are feeling positive and are working to their potential, they will unleash a tremendous volume of creative energy that in its applications, can transform our world.

I have chosen to frame my conversations with teams around concepts of “digital governance.” Most digital teams that struggle with difficult interpersonal and group dynamics find it hard to find a vocabulary outside of pointing and blaming others to explain the stress that comes with high-paced and disruptive digital development, particularly in a large enterprise. Makers are on a crazy ride, so much so that maintaining their footing is sometimes difficult. My goal is to get a team to pause and consider how they are interacting with each other — and then find a way forward that is better.

So, I’ve talked with a lot of digital teams that include IA’s, coders, UX folks, CMOs, CIOs, content strategists, writers, attorneys, CEOs, records managers, systems administrators, and so on. That digital teams include such a broad panorama of people makes perfect sense, as it takes a diverse set of skills to get digital done well. Yes, those teams may need to iron out control debates and maturity issues, but most organizations realize that to create strong and effective online experiences, they need to tap a variety of resources within their ranks. However, within that broad spectrum of skills, I still find a narrowness of perspective and experience that worries me.

Broadly speaking, there are justice and equality-based cases to be made for diversity and inclusiveness, particularly in areas where institutional bias has excluded certain people as a matter of course. Of course, I have a views on these fronts. But, in addressing the larger maker community, we must realize that we are the makers of this new online World Wide Web. We must make sure that the foundations and antecedents of this new world of knowledge and experience are informed by and represent the diversity of all we are in both the real and digital worlds — not just the particular and narrow perspective of a few.

We know what happens when the antecedents of a grand endeavor are restricted to a narrow use case. Whether we are talking about a nation, a website, a business, an app, or a family, the outcome never scales well. Initially, the effort may seem to grow and flourish, but due to missing components in its architecture, it eventually will collapse under the weight of its own “success.”

I say, let’s be smarter this time. If we can agree that the Web is for everyone, then the maker community needs to be more inclusive. We need all hands on deck, right from the start. A major focus of IAs and UXers is to ensure that the digital experiences we create are informed by a broad and rich set of experiences, beliefs, and knowledge. That goal can’t be realized if all of the IA and UX strategists involved look like, think like, and believe like each other. Closed systems never survive.

All in all, the topic of “A Broader Panorama” couldn’t be a better set up for my talk at the IA Summit this year — and I am thankful for the invitation. I’m looking forward to peeling back some of the layers of complexity that have to do with diversity and inclusiveness in our maker community — and more importantly, sharing some thoughts about actions we can all take to ensure that the digital maker community represents us all. It’s important not just because it is the just and right thing to do. I believe that together, we can go farther and faster in solving global problems that affect not just a few, but all of us.